The strawberry, often assigned the role of a dessert star or fruit bowl favorite, deserves more attention in the main entrée section as a secret weapon in sauces. The acidic and sweet dance of fruit in a savory dish creates a dynamic and complex flavor scale. Roasting the berries generates a depth of favor, slight give, and caramelized hint that takes the average berry and elevates it to new heights. By roasting the berries, even less-than-ripe berries transform into sweet drops that will make you jump.
Pairing roasted strawberries with asparagus cooked al dente and diced, a small amount of lemon and garlic, and a fine chop of mint yields a relish that captures spring’s bounty and nods towards summer. These five ingredients sing their highest pitch during March and April, and together they create a flavor profile worthy of a wide range of dishes, such as delicate pan-roasted duck breast, tender poached scallops, a brined and roasted pork tenderloin, or a tangle of seared oyster mushrooms. While you can roast strawberries and juice and zest the lemon a few hours before assembling the sauce, I recommend cooking the asparagus and mixing the ingredients together right before you serve the relish to avoid muting the flavors and oxidizing the asparagus or mint.
15 medium asparagus spears
5-6 medium strawberries
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon mint, chopped (about 6-7 leaves)
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a gallon of water on the stove and bring it up to a medium boil. Once the water reaches a boil, add in a generous amount of salt so that it is “salty like the sea.”
- Wash and destem the strawberries. Wash and take off the hard ends of the asparagus.
- Mince the garlic, zest and juice the lemon, and place these ingredients in a stainless-steel bowl to macerate (let the acid ‘cook’ or mellow the garlic).
- Place the strawberries on a paper towel to drain off any excess water and put them in a small roasting dish. Toss the berries with about 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and place them in the preheated oven.
- Prepare a medium stainless-steel or glass bowl with ice water, add in about 1 teaspoon of salt, and stir.
- Place the asparagus stems in the boiling water and cook them for about 2-3 minutes. You want the asparagus to retain a slight bite (keep in mind that the spears might continue to cook and soften after you pull them out of the hot water, and you will small dice the stems, so you want to aim for al dente and avoid overcooking the asparagus). Once al dente, pull the stems from the hot water and place them in the salted ice water to cool. Leave the asparagus in the cold water for just about 4-5 minutes and let them drain on a paper towel (once they are cool, pull them out or else you will mute the asparagus flavor with the water).
- Once the strawberries have cooked for 10-12 minutes, pull them from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature. You want the berries to have a slight give on the outside flesh but still be firm in the center.
- Once cooled to room temperature, small dice the strawberries and asparagus. I like to keep the small diced versions of these ingredients separate until just a few minutes before serving.
- Cook the protein or veggie of choice once you have all of the base relish ingredients prepped.
- In a medium stainless-steel or glass bowl, add in the tablespoon of olive oil and mix all of the relish ingredients together right before serving. If it is cold in your kitchen, I suggest throwing the relish bowl in the oven for about 2 minutes or placing it in a small pan and gently heating it for 1 minute to take the chill off. Check the relish for salt. If you like a little heat, consider adding in a few drops of Calabrian chili oil or a small pinch of red chili flakes.
- Stack the mint leaves, slice them in thin ribbons, and then turn the ribbons so that you cut them in small dices (this is the way to ‘chop’ mint and avoid turning it into oxidize brown fragments).
- Spoon the sauce over pan-roasted duck breast, poached scallops, brined and roasted pork tenderloin, or seared oyster mushrooms, and serve.